In business, reputation is everything. You don’t want to be in a position where you find yourself liable for damaging a company or individual’s reputation - even if you didn’t mean to. Read on to make sure you never fall foul of a defamation lawsuit as a freelance journalist.
What is defamation?
Defamation is the umbrella term for libel and slander. It’s where you publicly call out a company or individual, making unfounded allegations and saying something, or making a written statement, that damages their reputation: lowering public perception of them and causing financial losses.
In today’s world of social media, anybody, in theory, could be liable for defamation. However, it’s freelance journalists in particular who need to be extra wary about what they write, just in case a statement could be considered defamatory in a court of law.
Here are a couple of examples:
British freelance writer Michael Breen was sued by Samsung for defamation after he wrote a satirical column poking fun at the global technology company, referring to past bribery scandals as well as perceptions that its leaders are arrogant. Samsung didn’t find it funny and filed a lawsuit for defamation, claiming damage to its reputation and potential earnings. If the ruling hadn’t gone in his favour, Breen faced hefty fines and even jail time.
In another case, freelance reporter Yashar Ali faced a lawsuit from Fox News host Eric Bolling seeking US$50 million in damages after his article ran in the HuffPost alleging that the television personality had texted unsolicited photos to at least three colleagues. Bolling sued Ali directly and did not name HuffPost in the suit. While HuffPost editor in chief Lydia Polgreen promised to cover legal fees, not all freelancers find themselves in this fortunate position and are expected to defend themselves.
How professional indemnity insurance protects you
Indeed, for a freelance journalist, a defamation claim could threaten to destroy your business. Investigations are usually lengthy and you could find yourself racking up huge legal costs and fines, especially when facing up to large corporations, not to mention damaging your own reputation in the process.
It’s why many opt for a comprehensive professional indemnity (PI) insurance policy. The great thing about PI insurance is that it protects you against a wide variety of legal issues, including defamation, negligence, loss of documents and breach of duty, and covers your legal costs and compensation payouts if you find yourself under investigation. It’s worth noting that most PI insurance policies don’t cover intentional defamation, but you can find out more about what level of cover you need as a freelance journalist here.
Steps to avoid a defamation claim
In most instances of a defamation claim, the freelance journalist in question has unknowingly and innocently put themselves at risk. Here are some points to consider to avoid facing a lawsuit yourself:
- Be truthful. If you’re going to make a potentially scandalous statement about a business or individual, you must be able to prove that your statement is true and based on facts, so gather evidence wherever possible
- Always check your facts. Don’t automatically assume that something written elsewhere is true.
- Tread carefully when it comes to repeating allegations. Even if you innocently re-tweet a potentially defamatory Tweet, you risk being sued
- If you’re giving your opinion on something, make it clear that it’s your honest opinion and it’s intended to help others make an informed decision
- If you know what you’re writing is defamatory, check that you have the right to report on it. There are some things you have a right to report on, regardless of whether it’s defamatory or not, like what is said in a courtroom as long as it’s correct.
Today, even seemingly small errors can end up having huge ramifications on your freelance business. Defamation lawsuits are time-consuming and expensive. Even if you end up winning a case, the costs to defend yourself could be huge. For many, it’s not worth the risk and that’s why they choose to take out PI insurance to safeguard their future.
To find out more about professional indemnity insurance and how we can help to protect your freelance business, please get in touch with our team of experts. You can also read about other insurance matters in our Knowledge Hub.